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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/257

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THE DUCHESS JOSIANA.

pagan and a lackey. She seemed to have emerged from the foam of the ocean. In her there was something of the wave, of chance, of the patrician, and of the tempest. She was well read and accomplished. Never had a passion approached her, yet she had sounded them all. She felt an instinctive loathing of their realization, and at the same time a longing for them. If she had stabbed herself, it would, like Lucretia, not have been until afterwards. She was a virgin stained with every defilement of an imaginary sort. She was a possible Astarte embodied in a real Diana. She was, in the insolence of her high birth, at once tempting and inaccessible. Nevertheless, she might find it amusing to plan a fall for herself. She dwelt in a halo of glory, half wishing to descend from it, and perhaps feeling curious to know what a fall was like. She was a little too heavy for her cloud. To err is a diversion. Princely unconstraint has the privilege of experiment; and what is frailty in a plebeian, is only frolic in a duchess. Josiana was in everything—in birth, in beauty, in irony, in brilliancy—almost a queen. She had felt a momentary infatuation for Louis de Boufflers, who used to break horse-shoes between his fingers. She regretted that Hercules was dead. She lived in some undefined expectation of a voluptuous and supreme ideal. Morally, Josiana brought to one's mind the line of Horace, Desinit in piscem,—


"Un beau torse de femme en hydre se termine.


Hers was a noble neck, a splendid bosom, tranquilly heaving over a proud and arrogant heart, a glance full of life and light, a countenance pure and haughty; but (who knows?) below the surface was there not, in a semi-transparent and misty depth, an undulating, supernatural prolongation, perchance deformed and dragon-like,—proud virtue ending in vice in the depths of dreams?